As Coloradans consider Proposition CC and the fate of our Taxpayer Bill of Rights this November, we should bear in mind the lessons of Novembers past.
In 2005, voters were promised that if the state were allowed to keep the excess revenue that should have been refunded to taxpayers under TABOR, the money would be used to boost education spending. Referendum C was approved, but the money never made it to the classroom. “Spending on programs not associated with Referendum C has grown more than twice as fast as spending on education and health care,” former state Treasurer Mark Hillman noted in 2007.
So why should we trust the politicians this time, especially now that they are considering a special legislative session to make changes to a proposition they approved only a few months ago?
Clearly, backers of Prop CC are worried that voters have caught on to their game, so have floated the possibility of substituting a 5- or 10-year “timeout” for voters to consider instead of the outright elimination scheduled to be voted on in less than four months.
They’re right to be worried.
TABOR was designed to prevent lawmakers from raising taxes without the consent of the voters. Using a formula of population growth and inflation, TABOR requires the government to return to taxpayers surplus revenues that exceed a fluctuating limit.
It’s a flexible system that provides the state more than enough revenue. But every year, lawmakers shift hundreds of millions of dollars that are supposed to go to school districts to other programs. Now, having created artificial spending “gaps,” they want to fill them by gutting TABOR instead of making the hard choices they were elected to make.
We should insist that they be smarter about how they spend the billions they already get before asking for more.
Our state budget already exceeds $30 billion, in the top half of per-capita spending among the 50 states. If we take the restraints off spending by weakening TABOR, that number is sure to climb. And when taxes and spending soar, what happens to the state’s economy?
Since its enactment in 1992, more than $3 billion has been returned to Coloradans under TABOR. Over that time, Colorado has been among the national leaders in economic growth.
There’s no good reason to tinker with such success. Certainly, the desire among some state legislators to get their hands on more of your money and spend it with reckless abandon — confirmed most recently by the ongoing attempt to use a special legislative session to make the tax-grab in Prop CC retroactive to this year — does not qualify.
We can all agree that our schools and roads need more funding. But removing the tax-and-spending guardrails provided by TABOR is not the way to do it — especially considering there is no provision in Prop CC requiring legislators to spend the money on those priorities.
TABOR bars politicians from spending surplus revenue without the consent of the voters. And still those politicians have gone to great lengths—with proponents admitting all of the clever ways the state has finagled to not comply with TABOR— to bypass this straightforward requirement.
That tells you all you need to know about what will happen if the restraint is removed – much higher taxes, much more spending, and even less regard for the will of the people. Calls for a special session, where more finagling would be on the agenda, are further proof they can’t be trusted.
The legislature should not hold a special session, and if Coloradans get the chance in November, we should vote down Prop CC.
Jesse Mallory is the director for the Americans for Prosperity Colorado Issue Committee.